Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows Release 20 July 2007
About a dozen people suggested that or at least wondered if the release of book number seven in the Harry Potter series, Deathly Hallows, would be worth looking at as a global event. Some went much further, proposing that this was such an important moment in consciousness space that it must be a test of the GCP concept.
David Thomson said, "If I have the right bead on the Harry Potter phenomena, the whole planet has just experienced a major shift in consciousness. This myth has become a global myth and will affect the structure of human conception from here on out. Rowling has written a successful mythology on the scale of the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman gods. Kids everywhere are taking this in, and they will grow into the adults of tomorrow. Future generations from all cultures will read Harry Potter."
David felt my assessment of the significance of this event was deficient (I had suggested it was not in the same league with "things like Brazilian plane crashes, the ongoing tragedy of Iraq and increasingly, Afghanistan, [or] more promising major events like discovery of the huge underground lake in Darfur, ...." which were competing events on the world stage around this time.) He also assumed I would not be looking for a significant effect, and may have been concerned it wasn't on my agenda since I thought the event was hardly earthshaking. In general, I am more interested in learning something than proving a point, and I had indeed planned to look in on the newest, and last, of Rowlings' Harry Potter books.
Interestingly, the same contretemps over the status of a Harry Potter release vis-a-vis the GCP ran its course two years ago on a list for professional researchers, devolving eventually into a discussion of experimenter psi as an explanation for GCP effects. I take a portion from the 2005 page:
Here's a picture of the NetVar measure (Cumulative Z² - df) for the 20th and 21st of July, GMT. The opening at midnight in London is marked. This result is reminiscent of that in 2005, and though it is not signficant, the trend is persistent, and fairly persuasive. It is perhaps noteworthy that the trace reverts to a random walk during the last segment, much as it did in 2005. Again, whether the trend has anything to do with the Harry Potter release is a question we can't answer, as suggested above. More to the point technically, the S/N ratio in the GCP formal effects is tiny -- the average effect size per event is equivalent to Z = 0.5, meaning it takes many replication to achieve reliable statistics. If you are unfamiliar with GCP analysis, there is information about the graphical displays and an introduction to interpretation of the analysis, which, although it was written for meditation events, is generally applicable.
But the better test of Thomson's contention that "The extreme popularity and strong emotional effect of this series has got to rate among one of the most significant world wide events in a while" might be the synchronized release at midnight around the world, focusing the interest locally. As before, we use signal averaging to look at a pair of graphs of the data around midnight. There is a suggestive trend around the stroke of midnight for the Stouffer Z² - 1, but it happens to be of opposite sign to that from 2005. The variance around midnight looks random (in contrast to New Years, where the signal averaged midnights exhibit a significant drop in variance centered on midnight).
A broadened time window for the NetVar measure is shown in the next figure. The result is interesting, and should be instructive in the sense that it displays very clearly the vagaries of random data that just might be affected by the excitement surrounding big social events like the Harry Potter phenomenon. The trend is strongly positive for a 10 or 15 minutes and then reverses, to assume an equally strong negative slope. This should help reinforce the understanding that single events, and post facto explorations cannot be interpreted as evidence for (or against) an effect of the Harry Potter excitement.
In addition to the conviction that the Deathly Hallows release would be a significant event, David Thomson was also convinced that when large numbers of people finished reading the book some 28 hours later there would be another surge of "global consciousness". For exploratory and instructional purposes I requested a sufficiently detailed prediction to do an analysis, and he proposed a 2-hour period from 04:00 to 06:00 in the Eastern time zone of the US. The following graph shows the data during this time. It is a good example of a random walk.
While all the caveats about interpretation of any given analysis pertain, this result is consistent with my expectation. There is little likelihood that very large numbers of people would be engaged in a communal, coherent state of consciousness as a result of finishing the book around this time. Though the Harry Potter phenomenon is powerful in its own right, it isn't the kind of event that engages people in a shared frame of mind. Reading such a book more likely engages people in their own individual responses and personal reactions. That's not what global consciousness is about.